Thérèse Raquin

Emile Zola, adapted by Julia Bardsley
The Haymarket Ensemble, Basingstoke
(2004)

Occasionally, very occasionally, an enterprising director takes down from the shelf Emile Zola's introduction to the Naturalist movement, Thérèse Raquin, and breathes dark life into it for a new generation.

On the latest evidence of my own eyes and ears at the Basingstoke Haymarket Theatre this month, the play's impact refuses to be blunted by time or changing tastes. Alasdair Ramsey's production has not simply satisfied the broadsheet writers, it has delighted its own audience. One elderly Basingstoke woman, a regular in the real sense of the term, had seen four performances before the end of the brief run.

There are times, admittedly, when I look at "a slice of life" expressed in dramatic terms and ask myself why anyone, least of all myself, should want to spend valuable time, let alone money, watching misery dressed up as theatre. This was not one of those.

Martin Johns' design captured instantly the gloom of the narrow Pont-Neuf and with the ceaseless drip of pipes, the damp, pungent smell rising daily from the Seine. While Julia Bardsley's stage adaptation tempered Zola's uncompromising narrative only by the merest whisper of a sub-title, Murder by the Seine.

For a moment I thought Kate Doherty a little young for Madam Raquin until I recognised the plump, white, flaccid face of gaslit evenings, evidently the mother of Tom Bevan's gaunt, sickly Camille.

As Alan Blyton's Grivet and Ron Meadows' old policemen Michaud help to create the tedious atmosphere of Thursdays at home, a sparkling Thérèse from Phoebe Soteriades with Matthew Rixon as a self-assured Laurent, begin to build the crime passionel before our very eyes. Passion burns, and passion cools, and from the cleverly-enacted river tragedy the Haymarket Ensemble never let us off the hook until the last drop of terror has been squeezed.

There is talk that Alasdair Ramsey's production might be seen again - in which case an early visit is recommended.

Reviewer: Kevin Catchpole